Friday, February 16, 2007

Repeating History -- Almost

She was U.S. ambassador to the UN.

He was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It was 1993 and Sarajevo was under siege by Bosnian Serbs.

He, with many years experience near the seat of political power tempered by combat experience, was the quintessentially reluctant warrior-politician who could see no military necessity dictating troop deployments nor any political end-game to be achieved and no exit strategy.

She, a foreign policy academic in her first high level diplomatic post, described by those who knew her as a “humanitarian hawk,” was in full form as she famously asked: "What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?"

Nearly 14 years on, another Secretary of Defense assumes his office with nearly 200,000 U.S. service personnel fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, supporting troops in those two countries, or on the way to the area. . At the same time, many administration officials are calling for military action against Iran because of its refusal to cease work associated with uranium enrichment Iran’s defiance of the UN with regard to uranium enrichment.

As National Security Advisor, she had been circumscribed (and circumspect) by the overwhelming personality of his predecessor when dealing with media representatives. But she legitimately earned the “hawk” label not only because of her role in the Afghan and Iraq wars but from her insistence that the U.S. would not deal with the Palestinian-Israeli stand-off until the terror-listed Palestinian Hamas movement, which won parliamentary elections in January 2006, either formally acknowledged Israel’s right to exist or was replaced as the government of the Palestinian Authority.

He is adamant that the administration has no plans calling for war against Iran. Nonetheless, Iran stands accused of complicity, at some level below the “very highest,” in the transfer of deadly explosive devices that Iraqi insurgents use against U.S. and coalition forces. And one month after the president announced the “surge” into Iraq, the administration said another 3,200 troops would be extended beyond their tour of duty in Afghanistan. Following this, the outgoing Chief of Staff of the Army told Congress that none of the army units not in or preparing to go to the battle zones could be considered combat ready.

She has become her own, albeit selectively engaged, Special Envoy to the Middle East. She did nothing to intervene in the internecine warfare of the last three weeks between the security forces of President Mahmoud Abbas and those of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. This was left to the Saudis, who helped forge a compromise that included a statement that Hamas would “respect” prior agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. It did not meet two other stipulations of the Quartet (U.S., EU, Russia, UN): recognition of Israel and renouncing violence. Hamas also ceded the majority of the cabinet seats to Fatah and independent figures.

She will meet Monday with the Palestinian president and the Israeli prime minister. How much the Mecca agreement will move the international discussions forward can’t be predicted. What really is needed is a strategy of patiently weaving the interests of all participants into a seamless whole that will be too costly to dismember. Whether these small movements constitute the first warp and woof remain to be seen.

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